The Numbing, Yet Poignant Details of Modern Life

My bestest friends could all radically alter their coifs. My apartment could drastically be rearranged. I could lose a limb. Six distinct male fashion revolutions could happen right under my nose. None of these things I would notice. Subtle changes in the Brown Line automated announcements, and I powerfully sense, somewhere in the most primitive parts of my brain, that we may be in for epochal social upheaval. Why must we talk so often of banning gambling on the trains now? When did Chicago become Chicago & Franklin? Has some DeLay-esque redistricting gone on in that area which I was not informed of? I swear, if they touch that uber-ironic "This is Grand" recording on the Red Line, I'm signing up for the campaigns of any and all Daley opponents.

Corrections and Clarifications...maybe

In getting some feedback on the posting that I made on July 27, I realized that I probably should have taken a little more time to better lay out the tiff between my brain and me. Instead of trying to logically explicate my little conundrum, I rushed it and really chose poorly when offering up those two jokes as examples – they actually better speak to a peripheral issue. What can I say? In the blogosphere there really is the pressure to publish or perish. So, I will try to be succinct and clear, but will make not promises regarding my ability to be either.

  1. Should something be sacred or should we just say fuck it?

This is where the jokes come in and is really of only marginal interest to me. It’s more philosophical than anything else. If one has strong inclinations to think in racial/potentially racist terms in joking and non-joking contexts, whether they think they mean it or not, does this belie some underlying, unconscious stance on the world? The answer to this is likely yes, and probably more “Yes” than we like to think. The PC revolution has, in part, muted the fact that race is still very much a reality in our world and how we perceive it. Anyway, that is also not the point. This is:

Should some things be inherently unfunny? It’s the sacred cow argument. George Carlin, a person who probably had too big an influence on me at too tender an age (and I thank him for it), sought to slay the holy bovine by trying to show that he could make jokes about rape (results were mixed). What I believe (or tell myself I believe) aside, I certainly speak and act as if anything and everything is fair game and I am not apologetic about it.

This leads to my first potential crisis: if nothing is sacred then doesn’t it stand to reason that nothing is truly above the moment? And if this is the case, then don’t I, as the person who holds nothing sacred, also believe in nothing? Or rather have nothing in which I truly believe. (Note: I wouldn’t mind discussing over a bottle of wine whether or not an extension of this condition, when taken from the realm of humor and into that of social values, is the same as the problem that is alleged to plague the Democratic Party and its inability to connect with the average American in the face of the GOP’s utter incompetence and clear disdain of the Everyman.)

  1. Habit:Being::Sarcasm:Sincerelessness

If I can fit that identity crisis into my schedule, what follows will be its focus. The argument reads as follows (Note: I was never a champ at logic so forgive me my transgressions against the long-venerated Western tradition of formal proof.):

i. “Sarcasm is sneering, jesting, or mocking a person, situation or thing.”

ii. Sarcasm, based on the commonly accepted definition (i), is thus antithetical to sincere and literal truthful forms of expression.

iii. Evandebacle uses sarcasm as his primary mode of communication.

iv. Further, Evandebacle is an avowed and confirmed cynic.*

v. Cynics believe “that only self-interest motivates human behavior, and who are disinclined to rely on sincerity, human virtue, or altruism.”

vi. If Evandebacle understands the world he lives in philosophically through paradigm (v.) and experiences it semiotically through mode (i.), then his world lacks sincere belief.

vii. Evandebacle exists in the same world he lives in.

viii. Ergo, Evandebacle is, by definition, lacking in belief and sincerity.

There you have it, cleared up I hope. Probably not. My fear is this: my use of sarcasm has gone through stages: a gently mocking way of talking about stuff, to a defense mechanism, on to a rewarding way of getting laughs, then forming into habit, on to a default mode of interaction, and, finally, becoming the default mode of thought. I believe I touched on the problem with this last stage in the earlier posting.

Thinking sarcastically habitually is different than acting sarcastically in the moment. The moment is, obviously, fleeting. Habit becomes a tainted way of understanding the world which inherently undermines the truth-value of everything around you. Therefore, you (or me, as the case may be) no longer believe in things sincerely, you merely believe that people “tell themselves” that the world is the way it is. Or worse, you believe that people are telling you they think that the world is a certain way, but deep down they know they are lying to themselves and others. The whole thing is rather deconstructionist in that there ends up being nothing at the core of anything anyone does or says. It’s also a bit frightening, which is why I have to fit that crisis in.

* Biographical tidbit: Virtually every teacher of Evandebacle’s from K through12 referred to him as “bright, but so cynical for his age.”


Two or Three Evils

Which is worse: that Sleater-Kinney is going "on indefinite hiatus" or that I read about it in the freaking Red Eye? Or is it worse still that this might cause me to reconsider my stance on Lollapalooza which may be their last show? Honestly, I listened to their last album, The Woods, incessantly, but learning that they, or any band I really like for that matter, broke up in the Red Eye really might the worst part.


Is My Brain A Jerk or Is It Just Me?

Some time ago I promised myself that, when I have some free time, I need to have a good ol' knockdown, drag-out, barnburner of an identity crisis. Maybe it'll have to wait until a holiday weekend because it's gonna be a doozy. It'll have anxiety and self-recrimination and I'm sure lots of drinking alone. I'm not sure if you can plan crises, especially so casually, can you? Did Khrushchev decide that after he cleaned out the Kremlin shed he was totally going to get started on that missile crisis...oh and also that scrapbook he's been wanting to do? I think it's possible that's exactly how those events unfolded, but Soviet Premiers aside, I need to schedule one. My reason for this is pretty simple, I want to answer one of the basic questions of the human condition: Am I a good person? Or, more specifically, do my mind and I really feel the way we think we should feel about the world and other people?

Sounds like a lame question, I know. Who gives a rat's tuches? Well, here's the deal. I've long known that sarcasm and (potentially) offensive humor are fundamental parts of my personality. Some would say the most fundamental. Those people rarely, if ever, speak to me. Sarcasm is, by its very nature, a particularly aggressive form of humor, as is off-color humor. This wouldn't seem to be too much of an issue as long as my interlocutors know that I am joking and don't mean what I say. When one is habitually sarcastic, however, the ability to be sincere becomes problematic. Doesn't a person who has cultivated a form of non-truthfulness as a primary form of expression soon see their capability for truthfulness atrophy? The question I must ask myself should be obvious: Give that, can one be good without truth?

The death of my capacity for truth is not a fait accompli. Or that's what I tell myself. Still, I have a nagging sense that my brain, at least unconsciously, instinctively goes for maximally sarcastic or offensive reactions to my environment most of the time. Now, if these unconscious reactions are my first impulse and they also are, say, offensive or racist or aggressive or whatever else my conscious conscience tells me is bad, might I, at the core of my being, actually be those things? That would suck.

I have two examples from the last few days. Both are comments or jokes that I was inclined to make based on things that were going on around me, but lucky for me I did not:
  1. At the Chicago Fire game on Sunday there were pieces of red or white paper taped to the backs of everyone's seats. We were all supposed to hold our sheets up to create the effect of a sea of red and white, the team colors. Not surprisingly, the annoying teenagers behind us, and annoying teens throughout the stadium, decided to fashion them into paper airplanes and throw them around. A number of them didn't fly well and I kept getting hit in the back. I almost, though I caught myself, turned around and asked the row of adolescent boys behind me, "Ummm. Do I look like the World Trade Center to you?"
  2. Today I was walking in the Mexican food aisle of my local supermarket and the following joke popped into my head (If someone else came up with this before, I'm sorry. I didn't know.): Why was the religious plantation owner excited to shop at the supermercado? ("I dunno. Why?") Because he heard they had free holy negroes.
You may or may not think they're funny and I don't really care one way or the other. (If you were on the fence I'll clear it up for you: They're pretty poor jokes.) The question for me is whether or not the unconscious drive to find such associations in the world around me (and the fact that I have to motivate myself to be bothered by it to the extent that I want to schedule an identity crisis) says something about the person that I really am? The vestiges of the academic in me wants to know, where do jokes like these come from? What do they say about the jokers worldview? Is there truth (in this case "subjective truth," whatever that might mean) in them? Should I just shut the fuck up and write something actually funny already?


Get Yours Kicks On Route...Ummmm...At 7000 S. Harlem Ave.

While all of the cool kids were off doing the rockin' summer music festival thing at Intonation, I, along with Cake Ninja Butternugget, took in a Chicago Fire game courtesy of Judge and Mrs. Injury. To get the insignificant details out of the way, the Fire defeated the sadly named New York Red Bulls 2-0. Besides the general indignity of playing for a team named after the liquid crack of the X-Games Generation, the Red Bulls goalie, and former National Team keeper Tony Meola, seemed a bit grumpy that he had to be at the game instead of where he felt he belonged, returning from the World Cup with the rest of the US squad in disgrace.

One of the goals was scored by midfielder Thiago. Now, I don't really believe that the Chicago Fire managed to get an authentic one-named Brazilian to play for them. Gimme a break. More likely is that they found him in some neighborhood here in the city, saw he had some skills, and dressed him up like a Brazilian for effect. Kind of like a job at a restoration village for people who can do bicycle kicks. The last thing they needed to do was give him a name - something exotic and announcer-friendly. So, they settled on Thiago (pronounced "tee-ah-goooooooooooo"). Thus the Fire's "Brazilian" soccer star was born.

The view from the 2nd row

OK, enough about the Xs and Os of the game. We'll save those finer points for American sports analysis. Yesterday marked the inaugaral match in the Fire's new Toyota Park, a stadium dedicated exclusively to soccer and Kenny Chesney concerts so that they don't have to share with those glory-hogging Bears with their tradition and broad fan base. The stadium, sporting a half-paved parking lot and unpainted concrete outer walls, is truly the new vanguard of soccer-viewing architecture. (Actually, the seats of the Injury family were awesome.) It's location, unencumbered by such things as a neighborhood for pre- and post-game reveling or convenient access to public transit, makes it the perfect setting for a stadium to fall quietly into disrepair should the MLS go the way of all previous American professional soccer leagues.

Part of the gala opening celebration entailed giving the fans streamers to throw onto the field of play, making the teenaged staff rue the day they applied for "this cool job with the Fire." When streamers insufficiently aerodynamic to really infringe on the game, some industrious folks fashioned paper airplanes out of signs that were taped to the back of each seat and were originally intended to make the crowd appear to be a solid sea of red and white, the teams colors. The airplanes were a way more effective nuisance and, thanks to some especially creative fans who affixed the paper streamers to the backs of their planes to create a tail effect, a much more aesthetically pleasing one as well.


Even though the Fire have their own house, it does not mean that they have a home. For professional sports franchises, it is what the players give back to the community that really connects them to the places where the play. The Chicago Fire are no different. Introducing the FireWorks for Kids Foundation, the philanthropic effort whose name has the most humor potential since what? The Dick Sale Charity Golf Tournament? Can any of us resist imagining a "Support FireWorks for Kids" poster featuring a bunch of little cherubs waving their stumpy wrists and three-fingered hands at the camera? No. No we can't.

No effort at sports reporting is complete with out a full wrap up of foodstuffs. When we did our initial concession survey it did not look good: $9 bottles of Corona suffering from gigantism (though only mild gigantism, so it was still a total gyp); I bought a "BBQ" Chicken sandwich which was merely thinly coated (let's call it stained) with some sort of ersatz tabasco that wasn't spicy so much as it made me reminisce about the olden days when food came with spice included; and there were far too many Dippin' Dots vendors per capita. Then we discovered them: ice cream nachos. No, there was no viscous cheese product or canned jalapenos (for all I know it was completely dairy-free), but it was pretty magical. The chips were something like bakes tortillas crossed with Taco Bell cinnamon twists. They were then buried under a mound of soft-serve swirl ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and a Cherry. It was brilliant. The crème de la crème. A coup de glace. [Groan] I'll stop.

Puns aside. You want some.



Lots of times, disparate forces of the universe get together, have a few drinks, maybe an appetizer, and chat about how to conspire against you. It's variously called bad luck, fate, chaos theory, whatever. Other times, those forces, or perhaps their cheerier, more positive cousins, convene and make good stuff happen.

This week a delightful convergence of good luck, desperation, superb timing, and sound reason created a perfect storm of work assignments. Translation: I have successfully convinced a client that it is in their best interest to send me to this conference in Hawaii. So, starting July 7, I will be spending five days in Waikiki talking to people about flooring tile, a subject about which I am completely ignorant. However, ignorance is far more pleasant to endure in Waikiki. The absurd part about this whole thing is that, even though I know little more about tile other than on which of the six sides of a room it generally belongs, the trip is actually a sound business decision. It's legit!

While this may make up for the vacations I never took as a kid and all those cool sounding "Get Lei'd" frat parties I skipped out on in college, there is a catch. If I don't return from the voyage triumphant with awesome data and immediate solutions for their faltering business, I will destroy the relationship we have with our best client. No pressure.


For My Information

Fascinating things which I have learned already today:

1. Kids need help, mentors to assist them along. Remember this when you stop off at the BP Wild Bean Cafe on the way to the office. When you give the lad behind the counter (Sylvester was his name, if you should happen upon his good retail soul) $2.01 for a $1.21 purchase and he inexplicably gives you $.20 change and can't for the life of him figure out what the problem is, be gentle.

2. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of calculating the effects of Micromanagement. It is true that Micromanagement is an exponential, rather than a geometric function; however, Micromanagement entities, in some environments (e.g., my company) may behave like waves rather than particles. Specifically, certain Micromanagement entities (e.g. Boss Micromanagement (Mb) and Client Micromanagement (MC)) may operate on wavelengths such that some of the overall Micromanagement force is neutralized via the physical and bureaucratic tendencies of Corporate Interference created by the individual forces acting on one another. So, in such instances Fm=H(MC2/Mb2), where H=the Universal Constant of Corporate Horseshit.

3. The guy selling the brand new pair of New Balance, size 11 shoes is hangin' at the Dunkin'. If I know anyone who needs a pair of $75 gym shoes he'll be there, but he ain't waitin' forever. These are $75 shoes and he only wants $20.

4. The stifling, airless hallway in which our bathroom resides has taught me the true meaning of the Brit term "the bog."


A Conspiracy? You Tefillin the Blanks

You'll recall that DebaclypseNow recently reported on an excursion evandebacle took to the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival as part of his continuing effort to be down with his Tribe and to find more people who might pose the eternal question, "Are you on JDate?" In spite of the mind-bendingly masterful musical performance by Lisa Loeb and the amazing swag procured along the way, something darker seems to have transpired that day. DebaclypseNow has recently obtained exclusive pictures* of the incident (That's right Shiloh, you ain't the 'It' pic no more!) and the inside story of what went down.

It was a lovely day, cool and overcast, but the crowds at the Festival were warmed by the spirit of tradition and the highly anticipated Kvetch-Off which would mark the culmination of the day's events. As near as we can piece together the sequence of events, things took a sinister turn during a stroll through the booths at the center of the grounds.

Shortly after picking up his Chicago Jewish Funerals hacky sack, evandebacle was approached by a doughy, patchy-bearded young man who wanted to show him something. He seemed unlikely to boast about JDate triumphs, so evandebacle stopped. The leaven-stomached lad asked him to come over an "do tefillin." This is the conversation that the stage mics miraculously picked up from hundreds of yards away:

"Hey, Mac, c'mere. Wanna do a tefillin?"
"Tefillin. A black thing you wear it on your arm."
"Sounds morbid."
"No way, Mac. It's cool. Like them wrist bands everyone's got. Because...uh...we Jews love Lance Armstrong so much."
"We do?"
"Yeah...uh...Making do with less. He's missing a testicle, it does the work of two. We had one day's worth uh oil; it lasted for eight. We Jews respect that kinda thing."

It seemed innocent enough, but before this ritual show of support for Our Chosen Cyclist, Lance-ala, could begin, the young man had surreptitiously placed a mind control cap on evandebacle's head, making him submit to the Will of Chabad and even causing him to chant strange incantations backwards.

Things began to look dire as the doughy man wound the "wristbands" around and around, ensnaring him tighter and tighter with each loop. The change was immediate. Just compare the disaffected look of the first picture with the goofy Prozac smile of the second. He's a mindless Jewtomaton! For a while, the conversation turned from the obvious ruse of the wristbands to talk of God and belief and tradition, and then to something far more inimical:

"How does that feel, Mac? Good?"
"It's tight, but still...perfect, My Doughy Master."
"Tight is good. You will be bound to me with this forever!"
"Goooooooood...Uhhh, forever, you say?"
"You heard me right, Jewna Gershon! Bound. To. Me."

What happened to evandebacle after being wrangled into the inner workings of this ancient JBDSM cult? Who were these people who could just set up a tent and practice sectarian male bondage? What are they to do with him? Make him eschew his secular ways? Maybe they are going to hold him hostage and farm his curly locks for Hasidim cursed to be born with straight hair? It's awful. It's cruel. Like something out of science fiction. Like Soylent Heeb! If only we believed enough to pray for you evandebacle. If only.

*Pictures provided by MSC Blackmail Snaps, photos fit for a King('s ransom). That's MSC Blackmail Snaps, where our motto is "If you don't post these on the internet, I will!"



Will rooting for Ghana in their game against the US this week make me a terrorist?


Well, Whip My Flanks and Call Me 'Sire'!

I've always been envious of people who have deep genealogies. I'd like to think that it's not because I'm jealous of one friend who can allegedly trace a bloodline back to Charlemagne (or some other Frenchy big shot) or another who can claim Marilyn Monroe as a cousin, albeit a distant one. It is more about the simple fact that genes have the power to carry little traits and tics and commonalities across time and space. They skip generations as they see fit, only to pop up again out of nowhere generations down the line. Such linking of past and present always riveted me. To be able to locate oneself with respect to people who left little else tangible of themselves in this world was pretty powerful. Of course, I have a hard time applying this to my own life because my personal pedigree is rather shallow, only three or four generations. I blame the Nazis, but don't I always?

Turns out that all this worrying about where I come was for naught. Why? Because I am apparently a horse, of course, of course. Yup, evandebacle, under his real name, is actually a horse born in 1929. My career and offspring are certainly not the stuff of legend, but my dad, Guy McKinney, won the Hambletonian back in '26. As a matter of fact, the horse named Hambletonian 10 is my great-great-great grandfather (as well as my great-great-great-great grandfather in four different lines and my great-great-great-great-great grandfather in still four others), so there's a little of the inbreeding going on. This means I'm related to virtually every racing horse in the country, great and small. Boy, it feels good to know the real me.


What Might Have Been

What I would like to do today is write an entry about a predatory campaign my absentee dog is apparently waging, not because it is interesting to you, but because I would get to use the title, "Possum in Effect." When did my life become the pursuit of evermore groan-worthy puns?

Sadly, I don't feel up to the task of composing a Marsupial vs. Canine saga. My head isn't quite clear and cold-free enough to make the story coherent, and really all I want is soup. Easier said than done on the Jewish grandmother-free strip of 53rd St. In lieu of writing an interesting entry, I suggest everyone pumps up "Bring Tha Noize" and sings along with their own lyrics in their head. Possum in effect. Got the flava. Terminator.


Sunday Jewy Sunday: Bag It and Swag It

I have hardly been the best or most by-the-(five )book(s) member of the Tribe. I don't go to temple. I heart bacon. I have a shiksa-intensive dating history. However, one aspect of Jewish Life that I relish is the ability to turn anything into humor, including simply being Jewish. In that spirit, I set off for the belly of the local Judaica Beast, the Greater Skokie Area, with an actual Nice Jewish Girl as a guide (What would you call a "beard" Jewess, someone who you have with you to make you appear more like one of the Chosen? A Peyos?) for the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival - an afternoon of fun, food, and Lisa Loeb. Lets start with that last part, shall we?

I actually know little about Ms. Loeb. She was in Heeb Magazine recently yapping about some new show where she tries to meet a man. Beyond that I know that she's cute and has worn the same glasses for at least 12 years. This last fact impresses me, as I tend to break such things on about a 9-month cycle. What impresses me more is that she has such star power that she can take the stage at a daylong festival at 1:15 p.m. and still be billed as a headliner. Damn she's a diva! After seeing her live, I learned some new things about her, most of which center on the theme "Lisa Loeb Is Not Very Good."

There was her banter which went something like this: "Great to be here. Wow, I'm playing a Jewish Festival. I was trying to think of what I could do to make my act more Jewish. So, I was back there in the dressing trailer and I was thinking about this. And I decided to turn up the heat because it was cold in the trailer. And then I ordered a tuna wrap, but I sent it back and made them bring me a tuna sandwich." Get it? Jews kvetch. As my improv cohort Tom "Shecky" B once noted, "They're coughing. I can hear them coughing. That's baaaaaad."

Her lyrics also leave a bit to be desired to. Allow me to cut and paste from her song, which was requested apparently, "Window Shopping":

Try me on
Take me home
The tags are on
It's still a loan
Warranty is in the sack
You can always take me back
Go window shopping again
Window shopping again
Scan the shelves for something red
It's different
It's brighter than the ones you had to have
They didn't last
They just fade
And you go window shopping again
Oops...there's a hole in the shrink wrap
You didn't notice that
Lucky you, they'll take it back
The warranty is in the sack
Besides there's always something more
Something better...a bigger store
Window shopping again

If "a hole in the shrink wrap" isn't the image to perfectly encapsulate the tribulations of single life, well mister, I don't know what is. We laughed at this song...a lot. It occurs to me that this may also be a rather bizarre metaphor for a malfunction that may lead to unwanted pregnancy. On that note...I move on.

I did not buy this shirt.

It wasn't just about Lisa though. Unfortunately, it wasn't about food either. I was dying for some latkes, but they were not to be had. The food was Kosher, but still typical of a summer fair. Pizza and Dippin' Dots. No bagels either, but there was, of course, Chinese food. Well done.

Not wanting to stand in line for bad food, we wandered, as We are wont to do. We caught two renditions of the Jewish Dance Hit of the Summer, "Who Let the Slaves Out?" Yes, it is, in fact, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" with a special pharoanic twist. The singer even added a bad calypso accent. In between Exodus-inspired hoots I was waiting for him to interject, "And Moses maaaan, he say, 'With blessing of Jah, Let I and I go!'"

At some point I was accosted by a rather creepy young man who acted out his suppressed bondage fantasies by getting me to do tefillin. As Jewish law states that women are too polluted to partake, my friend took the opportunity to stand back, laugh, and take pictures. I don't think my new orthodox pal was amused. Maybe he felt that this act of solemn devotion should not receive the same treatment as if I were posing in the stocks at a ren faire.

We then dutifully avoided anything with a banner, sign, or flier which had the words "Jewish" and "Singles" printed on them.

Finally, came the swag. Tents were set up, as always, advertising services and hawking wares. I got some magnets. My friend scored some sugar-free strawberry preserves for an impending parental visit. But the winner of the Most Amazing Swag Award goes to the folks at Chicago Jewish Funerals who gave out...hacky sacks with the motto "The way it should be" on them! Remember the loved ones who have passed by kicking a footbag with hippies!

We gave up after about an hour and a half. Would my grandparents be proud of how I spent my Sunday? I doubt it. They'd strain themselves to keep their interest in any and all Jewish girls detached and casual. Then they'd probably disparage these so-called "Jews" of the Midwest who couldn't supply their malnourished eldest grandson with so much as a taste of latke or kugel. Then they'd totally make me some. Awesome.


An Invitation to a Header

I think we've probably passed the point of convincing or friendly concessions on this issue. You are probably not going to be swayed by the global importance or passion of the event. If you don't already realize that watching Senegal beating Sweden in the Abbey Pub at 5 a.m. was a transformative event (and perhaps a pre-emptive warning against being Madonna's official outfitters), then I'm not sure I can help you. And, guys, no matter how earnest my arguments, chances are I won't sway you to believe that saying "nil" is just as manly as "nuttin,'""zilch," or "scoreyoufuckin'losers." Still, the World Cup begins today and I'm psyched.

So, I am offering an open invitation to watch some of these games with me. Doesn't matter where. Plenty of places will have the games on: the Abbey Pub, Small Bar, The Globe, etc. I know what you're thinking, "Evandebacle is a hockey fan fer chrissake. He can't be trusted in matters of sports viewing." Very true. So, I will make an appeal to your baser instincts: watch these games with me and there will be beer. And ladies, these are men with spectacularly sculpted legs and oodles of endurance.

Here are a few of the games that look interesting, though I am open to any and all suggestions:
  • Saturday, June 10, 9:00 a.m. England vs. Paraguay (Riot! The unbeatable high.)
  • Saturday, June 10, 2:00 p.m. Argentina vs. Ivory Coast (It's all about the African teams folks.)
  • Sunday, June 11, 8:00 a.m. Serbia and Montenegro vs. Netherlands (I like the Dutch team and I'd eagerly eat some of that Irish Breakfast at the Abbey.)
  • Saturday, June 17, 8:00 a.m. Portugal vs. Iran (Um galão vs. Axis of Evil All-Stars)
  • Saturday, June 17, 2:00 p.m. Italy vs. United States (Wait, who? Oh, right. U. S. A.! U. S. A.!)
  • Wednesday, June 21, 2:00 p.m. Netherlands vs. Argentina (Who will win this Tango de la Muerte through the tulips?)

A Cyclist's Second Day of Commuting Haiku, or My Kingdom For Some Junk In My Trunk!

woe is my poor ass
bony, unpadded white boy
no thanks, i'll just stand


Merely Your Humble Master

Ah yes. Another one of those “time is passing me by” weeks. (Perhaps such times happen so often because they occur as weeks instead of simple, quick-and-dirty moments.) They pop up now and again, probably with more frequency as I get older. Most of them have to do with me not being quite so up-to-date on electronic gadgetry or my ardent refusal to pepper my every text message or IM with acronyms. (Does the fact that I wrote the acronym “IM” instead of “instant message” undermine my self-identification as a techno-curmudgeon?”) Still, this is a big one for me because it’s a peers’ rite of passage that I will never partake in.

A handful of people in my “cohort” from the University of Chicago anthropology department defended their dissertations this week. For those not in the know, the word “cohort” is used by the anthro department to describe a group of students who come into the program in the same year. I think the word is supposed to indicate that said group has a unique identity and bond born of the communal suffering of the first year of graduate school. Ahem. Bullshit. Really, it is snobby way to make a group of would-be scholars seem like a native tribe with unbreakable ties of intellectual coming-of-age ritual. It also may just be a handy way to identify the people you should murder, maim, or plagiarize in order to increase your chances of getting an NSF grant or Fulbright Fellowship. Anyway, I heartily congratulate the new doctors (or at least the ones I liked).

There are plenty of reasons that I left grad school. I was too immature when I started. The U of C, in all its joyless obsessiveness, really wasn’t the right school for me, though it was rated the best of my choices. I didn’t have the temperament for academia. I simply wasn’t bright enough to compete for funding or jobs. If I did manage finish, I wouldn’t be able to make a living as an anthropologist anyway, especially with accumulated student loans. And my project was absurd. Actually, here’s proof of that last one taken from my MA thesis:

Inside jokes, as I have outlined them here, can be described as words or phrases that indexically invoke earlier interactional contexts in which humorous meaning precipitated. Understanding of such jokes hinges upon the shared experience of such a past text-in-context rather than ordinary linguistic competence. Thus inside jokes may index social relations by marking those who can and those who cannot perceive the deictic relation between a text-in-context as it unfolds in the here-and-now realtime and a past text from which its original humorous meaning derives. Additionally, as was the case in the SportsCenter example, any given (re)entextualization of an inside joke can have the effect of role recruitment by bestowing upon the initiated hearer the requisite knowledge to perceive or undertake future entextualization of the inside joke.

Hellllllooooo, book contract and movie deal! Scintillating, huh? And that's supposed to be a description of something that's funny! Actually, the word deictic always gave me an adolescent chuckle because it's pronounced "dyke dick." See what I mean about maturity?

I had a good run of it I guess. The first bit of advice I got from a prof was "Don't call me dickhead." Then there was my advisor telling a story to me about his swollen testicles during a session of a reading course in his office. (Sorry kids, for me at least, "reading course" is not a euphemism.) Oh, and there was the somewhat sodden (and besotted) professor who confessed, also during a reading course, that "Parker Posey could do no wrong." It is often depressing that I never finished because it would have been a palpable accomplishment to be contributing to a greater body of knowledge about human behavior, but I guess my talent wasn't so much in my research as it was bringing out the crazy in professors.


Burn-ham! Burn-ham! Burn-ham!

The deed is done. My rubbery legs have begun to stabilize. My case of third-degree helmet Jew-fro has been diagnosed and treated. My Dunkin Donuts coffee is piping hot.

I honestly wasn't certain I'd bike all the way today. Maybe to downtown and then hop a bus the rest of the way. But by the time I got to the Loop I figured what the hell, so I cut over to the Lakefront (I had taken the streets up until then) and enjoyed the jewel of Burnham's grand plan the rest of the way. It was a meditative last few miles along the Lake. It gave me time to think about sacrifice (namely that it's hard to give up my morning Red Eye sudoku puzzle in order to bike to work) and the need to acknowledge the important things in life (such as adding 'vigorish' to the list of words that I love).

I also missed the CTA's usual cast of characters. Granted, I have not seen a morning rush hour man-on-man blow job in a couple of years, but the Brown Line is still good theater. All I got today was a woman jogging in a skirt and another, let's describe her as looking bronzed and severe, biking in nothing but a leather jacket and a bikini. Fair play to her.

Thanks to everyone who gave me handy-dandy tips on not being Nasty, Sweaty Biker Guy.

Oh, I'd like to wish myself a Happy Anniversary. Yesterday marked five years since my last cigarette on American soil - a tasty Marlboro Light in front of Haskell Hall at the U of C. Problem is that I've been having more cravings recently (for cigarettes, not grad school). Since my policy is that I can smoke in foreign countries, maybe this is just my body's way of telling me I need a vacation. Anyone want to go to Argentina with me?!?


Good Career Strategy?

Tomorrow is the day. Step #6 of the Evandebacle Self-Improvement Initiative is going to be put into effect. I will be biking to work. The mixture of crisp morning air and bus exhaust will surely be a tonic to invigorate me to take on the day. MapQuest calculates the trip to be 16.18 miles, a rough estimate given that I think it best not to take the Dan Ryan. Sixteen point one eight miles of perspiration will thus accumulate on my person and in my clothes. This is my dilemma. How to mitigate my personal ripening as a result? (By the way, is this making me more attractive, ladies? "Ooooh. Have you seen that sweaty guy down the hall? Musky. Grrrrrr.") Always a team player and a cup-half-full fella, I see this as an opportunity to expand my zone of personal space at work by effectively making myself repulsive to everyone. This will give me more room to work and fewer interruptions. Brilliant plan, eh? I will bring a change of clothes, but any other suggestions? I fear there may be OSHA rules against my company having Smelly Biker Dude in the office which may turn this plan for healthy living into grounds for dismissal.


The Iliad and Theodicy

Let’s talk about God. Sure it's not what Salt 'n' Pepa want to talk about, but let's talk about God, bay-bee. There’s a big holiday coming up Tuesday and I think that He may be feeling a bit glum, what with all the attention that the Beast will be getting. There's no need to put your Slayer Listening Party on hold, but please take a moment to think about those deities who may be hurt and lonely on that day.

For my part, I’ve decided to try and turn the frown of His Crown upside-down and write a little bit about His Divinitude, specifically what I might do if I were in His shoes. Now, don't let these blatherings confuse you into thinking that I am in any rush to believe in a Higher Power. Pshaw. Blasphemy supplies too much humor fodder to resist. Actually, I hope to show that such humor is itself Supremely Divine. Well, maybe not quite Divine, but certainly a cherished pastime on High.

In any event, even when I’m on my holiest behavior, I’m an agnostic at best. Perhaps if pressed, let’s say by a sudden natural disaster or a professional basketball career, I think I could justify the existence of God based on a few simple behaviors and events that we all see in the world on a regular basis. And further, these are precisely the kinds of things I’d put out there if I were running the show. Quite a coincidence. But first, a big ol’ conundrum.

Theodicy: WTF?

For those not blessed with blind, uncritical faith, there are a series of phases which one might pass through before coming to a final decision about the existence, or lack thereof, and nature of a Higher Power.

First is Infantile Narcissism, a natural phase of psychological development which basically boils down to "I am the Center of the Universe. Give me toys and candy." As everyone likes toys and candy, it's a wonder that anyone ever emerged from this stage. Maybe if there were cake too...

The next stage is formally know in theological circles as the Sunday School Wiseass Exploitation of the Omnipotence Paradox. Basically, this amounts to the "Can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?" school of questioning. It's a phase that usually lasts long enough for some physics nerd to point out that yes, God could in fact create just such a rock, but He could also make a fulcrum of infinite length rendering the super-rock quite movable and thus making the paradox moot. All this talk of fulcra usually bores the wiseass who thus resumes mindless doodling in lieu of deeper debate.

Finally comes a true philosophical dilemma: the theodicy problem, aka "If God is Good, why do puppies die?" A more eloquent way of putting this problem, and one with less puppy blood on all of our hands, is "If God is Good, why is there so much suffering in the world?" Regardless, I love puppies. Ergo, if God is Love, but puppies still die, then something has to give.

Does God really hate these faces?

There are number of classic schools of thought on theodicy.

There's the free will angle: God gave us the choice to be good or suck. If we choose to suck, then it's our problem and we go straight to Hell without getting dessert.

Or maybe you prefer the Divine Plan take on it: God's Plan is Good, even if it's flecked with evil. Overall, it's a pretty solid way to govern a universe. So don't ask questions and clean up that dead puppy!

These being too simple, Seneca the Younger got in on the action: Before he lent his name to the world of agribusiness and made a killing on pickled beets, he said that evil and death and whatnot are not purely bad. They may sound a tad ominous, but they really prepare us to evolve spiritually. What doesn't (or in this case does) kill your puppy will make you stronger.

My personal answer to the theodicy problem is a bit of free will, a bit of millennial ambivalence, and just a pinch of God wants a hug. Basically, God has other things to do (as evidenced by the infinite complexity of the universe that has made Kansas so hip) and He gave us free will so that we could make our own decisions while he was off doing the Unknowable. It eerily parallels the events that led me to learning to do my own laundry.

When I was in elementary school I ardently refused to put my clothes in the hamper out of utter laziness. At the time parents could still discipline their children and DCFS did not yet defend my right to be such a brat. So my mother said, "Put them in the hamper or wash them yourself." Being a stubborn prick, I said fine and she imparted to me the Knowledge of Light and Dark. Same way with free will. Humans want to wear dirty clothes, then fine. Mom has better things to do.

But those other things that need doing in the Firmament or Wherever are hard work and there needs to be some Godly entertainment and appreciation. And so, like the career-obsessed father who takes no interest in his children's lives, but still wants to be loved and revered, God sometimes stops by to wield his awesome power for his own satisfaction.

My Own Private Iliad*

I think the Greeks were on the right track. Their Gods didn't dwell on the finer parts of earthly good and evil. They just kind of liked to fuck with humans. Sometimes literally. Zeus or somebody would take the form of a mortal's husband or a snake or a really alluring woodland creature with cute glasses and a pixie face to seduce the hapless and the horny.

On other occasions, the fucking was figurative. The Gods would mess with their minds, usually through temptation. They gave Pandora the Box to End All Boxes and then told her not to open it. Yeah right. That box had her name all encrusted in jewels on it and adorable little bunnies carved into the side. Then to Odysseus they gave a bag of winds, which he and his crew were to keep shut tight. Of course, the bag was reputed to look like one of those bank robber sacks with a “$” on it. Other legends say that it simply said “Treasure Bag!!!” in block letters.** Our mythico-religious traditions catalog millions of these fishing for human suckers stories. Let us call this mortal frailty the Perpetual Human Fascination with the Forbidden Closet of Mystery (PHUFCOM).

The Cruel Treasure Bags of Human Nature

The Judeo-Christian tradition has plenty of its own tales of the PHUFCOM. Eve and the Apple was all "Look, but don't touch." That worked great. And now, instead of living in the Garden of Paradise, I live in an apartment devoid of houseplants. Splendid.

In time though, this became monotonous. You don't have to be God to figure out that people can't stand not knowing what's in the box or the bag or what's behind the curtain or who slept with whom at the Christmas party. We like to stick our hands in the cookie jar, even if that jar is inside of a bear trap that's on fire. God needed something a little bit more nuanced and unpredictable. If I were God, I would have done the same thing. And our independently arrived at solutions were brilliant!

If the previous dangle-a-carrot form of Godly entertainment was Pac-Man, then this Golden Age of Godly Fun is The Sims. It's a delightful, self-contained universe where changes instituted by an omnipotent force yield a host of entertaining consequences among those persons being manipulated.

Please recall that God, both the "real" one, as well as the One I would be if given Keys to the Kingdom, wants the behaviors of mortals to provide captivating theater as well as exude love for Him/Me-as-Him. How to achieve this effect? Well, one could just visit upon the Earth a Lordly wrath and then kick back and bask in the resultant chaos. Seems a bit vindictive though. Plus, it's a bit gauche for any self-respecting God to do something so predictable. And the bad PR would probably revive that nasty theodicy problem and be a nightmare. To borrow a phrase that a friend seems keen on borrowing, nobody want dutty powder.

A more elegant solution is to tweak human nature to yield benign, but mind-boggling consequences. We have established that human curiosity, while the wellspring of great innovation and discovery, can foster behavior that is not only dumb, but quite at odds with the natural instinct for self-preservation. When Gods tell us the stove is hot, why must we touch it again and again and again? In fact, when they can't get their fix directly from the Heavens, humans often feed this curiosity by inventing elaborate conspiracies to explain the most commonplace things just to make things more fun. And really what greater conspiracy could there be than the existence of God, The Dude who exists everywhere, but who you can't actually see or hear or drink a beer with? The more elaborate the more disjointed the evidence, the more fiercely the curious human will defend it. The more fiercely they defend it, the more devout the love for God.

For me, the best evidence for the existence of God is the fact that people keep seeing Him in clouds or trees or the bumper of an AMC Hornet or in toast. It's a brilliant strategy really. Finding God or Jesus or some other member of his crew on your breakfast plate or brightening the grey wall of an underpass on the way to work, it really helps generate buzz on the street, plus they carry a subtle whiff of conspiracy. Didn't know God invented guerilla marketing, did you? And if you get the right Holy Enthusiasts to see these Miracles of the Banal, look out. That buzz will be infectious, like an underground dance hit. "Here's the new one from the Holy Ghizzost. He's following up the Fullerton Water Stain Mary smash by dropping this little Meatloaf Miracle at the Diversey Golden Nugget." And all of a sudden there is Fear and Reverence and Awe just like there was back in the O.T.

Is this enough to make me a believer? No, not really. But while I fret over the fact that many people choose to ignore empirical evidence of how the world works, I gladly take solace in the fact there is ample proof that this "God" everyone speaks of may have a keen understanding of human nature and thus has parlayed it into a robust career as an inveterate wiseass. That's an Image I can get behind being created in.

*Sure, the Homeric example that I give is actually from The Odyssey, but I was not going to let such triflings get in the way of a good title. If misattribution in the name of poetic license is evil, then go complain to God. He doesn't care and nor do I.

**Even though I have elected to use the patriarchal "He" to refer to God, I will not stoop to instituting "Treasure Bags" as a new euphemism for women's breasts, thank you very much.


C'mon You Know What Day It Is! (Beware Nerdy Post)

Besides it being the start of National Accordion Awareness Month (not "appreciation" mind you, simply awareness) and the 45th birthday of Vladimir Krutov of the famed Soviet "KLM Line", it is the first day of the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

I mark this occasion not to bore you (or not entirely to bore you) and not because I am a sucker for hot cyclonic (or anti-cyclonic, as the case may be) action, but because how this year transpires in the tropics will be a focus of political and scientific debate. In the wake of 2004 which saw Florida get battered by four storms (as well as the far more bizarre formation of Hurricane Catarina) and 2005 which annihilated all records for number of storms, intensity, intensification, and destruction, this year will likely fuel discussion on the relation between global warming and storm formation and surely will sway public opinion.

Personally, I'm not entirely sold on the idea that global warming will cause more storms, but the astonishing speed at which storms such as Hurricane Wilma strengthened - pressure plummeting 93 millibars in 18 hours - is more than foreboding. Hurricane Gilbert, the former King of Low Pressure, maxed out at a 64 millibar drop. The question of storm formation is still a little tricky in light of warmer ocean temperatures. Actually, it's a lot tricky, which is why I spend my days at a business research job superficially blogging about such topics instead of really working as a tropical meteorologist. Basically, too many variables to know for sure what the impact of global warming will be. It could mean a lifetime of seasons like 2005 or, maybe it could result in stronger upper-level winds which would inhibit storm formation. I dunno. I just know that June 1st marks the beginning of my own personal Festival of Tropical Dorkiness. Rawk!